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 A Report from the Director JANUARY 12, 2012 

Update: Will the Mainline Denominations Get It Right in 2012?Will the Mainline Denominations Get It Right in 2012?

We can either have a hard decade or a bad century.

New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman used these stark words to describe the challenge now facing the United States. Perhaps a similar dilemma faces mainline denominations as they enter 2012 with many of them facing major decisions at denominational assemblies.  

A recent Religion News Service article by Daniel Burke captures the tension these denominational leaders face: They must try to satisfy those clergy and laity still remaining after 45 years of unabated decline while at the same time trying to relocate to a different and smaller structure to fit the size these once large denominations have become. The article's title, "Mainline Protestants seek internal reforms, stir anger," paints the picture.

Burke describes how the Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and United Methodist Church have changes underway or proposed for consideration that try to downsize the denominational structures, focus more on congregational ministry than denominational ministry, permit more flexibility for congregations and less regulation by headquarters, reduce denominational budgets, and meet in assemblies less often.

One cannot underestimate the economic motivations for such reforms.  Congregations are feeling financial strains after both the worship attendance decline and economic reversals of the last decade. While it is tempting to downplay such concerns with talk of a “scarcity theology,” the reality is that when legitimate concerns are devalued in this way, people become more protective. 

Last spring in a presentation to United Methodist leaders, I called for a resetting of the financial baseline and a refocusing on reaching more people, younger people, and more diverse people. I have been surprised and encouraged by the response beyond the initial group, as the presentation has now been viewed on video by over 4,000 people. That tells us that there is tremendous positive energy in churches today, but without good faith efforts by denominational leaders to respond to radically different circumstances, the good will of members will be sorely tested.

“Norms outlive the people who develop them,” says Gil Rendle in his superb book on mainline church renewal. John Wesley spoke of this phenomenon as the forms of religion remaining but no longer carrying the power of God. We know that with or without reform, the coming years will be hard for mainline churches. What we do not know is if we will choose to have a hard decade or a bad century.

Lovett H. Weems, Jr.

You can order Gil Rendle's book Journey in the Wilderness: New Life for Mainline Churches from Amazon or Cokesbury.

You can pre-order Lovett Weems's forthcoming book Focus: The Real Challenges That Face the United Methodist Church from Amazon or Cokesbury.

Register for the Building a Hopeful Financial Future Conference

The recession has been challenging for many churches, but by honestly assessing our financial situations and rethinking business as usual in the church, we can build a hopeful financial future. To guide you, the Lewis Center presents the Building a Hopeful Financial Future Conference, part of our Funding Your Congregation’s Vision program, on Saturday, March 10, from 9:30 a.m.-1 p.m. on the campus of Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC. Building on our continuing work in church funding, this half-day conference for laity and clergy features insightful presentations and practical workshops to help you build a hopeful financial future for your church. Learn more and register today.

Preorder the Building a Hopeful Financial Future DVD/CD Resource and Save

Bring the best of the Building a Hopeful Financial Future Conference home to your church with videos, PowerPoint presentations, outlines of key points, and more. This resource ships in mid-April, but you may preorder today and save $15. Also, special bundle rates for other Funding Your Congregation’s Vision resources are available. Learn more and preorder today.

Track Your Congregation’s Giving Better with CGP

Will your church meet its budget this year? To answer this vital question you need to track giving accurately, but if you simply divide your budget by 52 weeks or 12 months — as nine in 10 churches do — you will not have a clear picture of your financial situation. Because each congregation has its own unique pattern of giving, the Lewis Center developed CGP — the Congregational Giving Profile. With CGP, you can track your finances based on the way people in your church actually give, establishing a more meaningful system of monitoring and reporting progress on your budget. Learn more about CGP.

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on the work of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership.
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